Implementing Socratic Seminar in Your School

15 min read
Implementing Socratic Seminar in Your School
The most powerful student learning experiences are those that involve
. Learning is much more effective when students are given an environment where they can build and foster educational connections. With the help of critical texts and innovative ideas, students can learn and grow in a much better manner. This is the reason numerous schools now prefer conducting a Socratic seminar every now and then.

Not only can Socratic seminars help children in your school build meaningful and beneficial connections, but they also offer opportunities for critical thinking and ideas. Make sure you hold a well-maintained and highly-structured Socratic seminar in your school soon.

According to the Greek philosopher, Socrates, disciplined conversation is the surest way to attain appropriate knowledge. Socrates named this practice of disciplined conversation ‘dialect,’ which defines the art or method of logically examining opinions and ideas. Furthermore, dialect is possible through a ‘questioning and answering’ method that can help determine the validity of a certain idea or thought.

Socratic seminar eliminates the idea of teacher lectures and emphasizes the Socratic Method that elicits critical questioning, deep thinking, a sense of community, and student ownership. Although it seems like teachers remain offstage when implementing a Socratic seminar, achieving benefits is only possible through thoughtful planning.

Implementing Socratic Seminar in Your School

The Socratic Method

Socrates was keen on creating a learning environment that would cater to the specific learning needs of each individual. He developed the Socratic seminar that slowly gained much popularity among ancient Greeks. Soon, Greece’s education system adopted the method as a crucial teaching practice. Today, the concept of holding a Socratic seminar is popular among schools around the world.

Just like the initial Socratic Method that was used in ancient Greece, Socratic seminars are all about creating a dialogue between teachers and students. Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher, identified that using the traditional methods was not an appropriate approach to encourage learning. In fact, it is not beneficial for students and teachers alike.

A Socratic seminar uses the Socratic Method by Socrates that deals with the core principles of critical thinking and dialogue. This method of teaching and learning triggers curiosity in students to ask questions that can expose the contradictions in their study material. This approach helps students create ideas and build constructive thinking skills.

The Socratic Method focuses on students’ critical thinking abilities rather than memorization. The teachers do not need to deliver lectures, and there is no need for students to rote learn. This is because a Socratic seminar will strictly focus on appropriate guidance from the teacher in order to enable effective learning in students.

Questions serve as the prime tool in Socratic teaching strategies. The main focus of using the Socratic Method for teaching is to create dialogue through questions and make sure that teachers and students maintain it.

Both parties are responsible for adding to the dialogue and expressing their queries, thoughts, and other concerns during the time. Consequently, a Socratic seminar builds their knowledge through forming connections between what they previously knew and newly learned.

The Socratic Method

What is the Socratic Seminar? Research Basis

Using the Socratic Method in schools and classrooms is an effective way of nurturing students’ growth through extensive questioning and learning. The Socratic Seminar, also known as the Socratic Dialogue, is highly influenced by the conversations that Socrates had with these learners.

He established dynamic conversations with his learners that empowered them to construct an understanding of complex matters. Socrates encouraged his pupils to think critically about evidence.

While the Socratic seminar has no single definition, experts describe it as an instructional teaching and learning method that uses discussion to enhance the understanding of complex ideas. According to Soccio, it is a dialectal method that uses the concept of inquiry and questions to guide an educational and informational discussion.

A typical Socratic seminar or dialogue involves Socrates asking a question to define an ambiguous or generalized concept. The topic could be something like love or piety.

After receiving an answer, Socrates follows up with another question. This question especially aims at revealing a contradiction in the answer. The process of questioning and answering continues until it becomes clear to Socrates and his students that there are no real answers to the relevant topic.

A similar method like the Socratic seminar takes place in many law colleges and other educational institutes for the purpose of engaging many students in a discussion. In fact, Even American law schools use Socratic dialogue in their classrooms.

What is the Socratic Seminar? Research Basis

But, students and teachers instead inquire about cases or lines of cases. Besides that, schools can also use the Socratic Method in high school classes and other grade levels.

A Socratic seminar embodies Socrates’ belief that asking questions and running an inquiry is the most effective method of encouraging learning. It is a formal discussion that relies on open-ended questions that are not pre-determined.

How to Implement the Socratic Seminar

During the text-based discussions in a Socratic seminar, students use their critical thinking skills as they pay attention to what others have to say. Accordingly, they articulate their thoughts and form opinions in response to others’ ideas.

Firstly, learners read the study material, which typically involves texts, articles, cases, or events. Then, the instructor begins the discussion by raising a question. The instructor needs to be familiar with the context to provide students with proper guidance.

Before starting the Socratic seminar, learners must also prepare their predefined material like the case, article, text, etc. This way, students are better able to identify an issue and evaluate it.

How to Implement the Socratic Seminar

The Role of the Instructor

Instructors play a vital role in the Socratic seminar as they are responsible for guiding the discussion in the right direction and keeping it on point. It is impossible to immerse learners in deep thinking without proper, anchored guidance.

Not only does an instructor guide provide answers to the learners, but they also accompany them in structured learning. The construction of knowledge among students takes place when teachers ask the right kind of questions. The questions must be thought-provoking for students in order to stimulate their critical thinking abilities.

With questions that challenge students’ beliefs, learners to reflect on their understanding and draw answers. This way, when learners take agency of their learning and form new understanding, a normal class becomes a Socratic seminar.

Socratic teachers focus on playing the role of a guide that walks beside their learners rather than delivering lectures from the stage. The elimination of distance between the teacher and student, thus, allows learning for teachers and students alike.

Instructors are responsible for nurturing intellectual activity in students where they can critically think for themselves and discover the truth.

The Role of the Instructor

Stages of Conducting a Socratic Seminar in Your School

The teaching cycle of a Socratic seminar consists of three stages, including

  • planning
  • practice
  • assessment

 Let’s see how you can conduct a Socratic dialogue in your school using the three stages.

Planning

Like any other instructional method, a Socratic seminar requires efficient planning. But, planning for a Socratic Seminar is different as it involves two principal components. Planning starts with the instructor’s preparation. This involves several responsibilities, such as selecting the text-based study material and preparing the questions.

Instructor preparation is deliberately based on the course or curriculum. This suggests that the teacher should select instructional material according to the national standards for the particular grade level.

When instructor preparation in a Socratic seminar goes hand-in-hand with the curriculum, students also meet their expectations of academic achievements. Not to mention, the Socratic Method helps improve their metacognitive and critical thinking skills.

Planning

The second component of planning for a Socratic seminar in your school is student preparation. This particularly refers to learners taking part in individual pre-seminar activities to prepare for complex discussions later on.

Learner preparation focuses on nurturing the skills that are crucial for a successful Socratic seminar. The seminar requires learners to engage in collaborative activities and values in order to participate in fruitful discussions regarding complex topics.

Engaging learners in pre-seminar activities foster their metacognitive skills, allowing shy students to gain confidence. The three effective ways of promoting learner preparation include establishing rules, asking students to set personal goals for the Socratic seminar, and asking for an assessment.

Practice

The organizing instructors must keep in mind that their Socratic seminar has an intellectual and collaborative purpose. It is important that they formulate questions that intend to promote social interaction among students. Not only this, but the questions also need to be curriculum-related so that they bring educational and academic benefits to students and teachers alike.

This suggests that the questions must cover both the aspects of a Socratic seminar: social interaction and educational experience. Consequently, it can interfere with the purpose of the seminar if the questions are purely social or purely academic-related. It is important for the questions do not have one right answer as it can loosen the discussion.

To keep the discussions fluent and going in your Socratic seminar, instructors should formulate questions with multiple different answers. Furthermore, it allows learners to debate and confront ideas when multiple answers exist for the same question.

This encourages students to compare and contrast different thoughts and look through different perspectives for a clearer idea. Eventually, they build upon their initial idea of a certain topic and learn to synthesize information.

Practice refers to the stage of a Socratic seminar when learners and instructors actively engage in respectful debates; confront the thoughts and opinions of one another. Already developed active listening and note-taking skills are crucial to effectively guide a seminar and move discussions in the right direction.

Therefore, instructors can use mapping into a graphic chart to support the process of note-taking. As the discussions go on, instructors can locate dominating students and draft the points of argument. Taking notes of the progress this way is essential to guide the conversations based on arguments rather than their own ideas.

Practice

Assessment

Experts recommend using peer and self-assessments after the main practice of a Socratic seminar. Both peer assessments and self-assessments require student ownership for the learning process. Students can take responsibility for their learning experience and regulate their behavior on their own.

For example, the instructor can pass on notes during peer or self-assessments. Moreover, they can ask learners to reflect on the personal goals that they had set for the Socratic seminar during the planning stage. The last phase of the seminar is a good time to check whether learners have been able to achieve their goals or not.

Whilst at it, learners gain back their energy to defend their position in the seminar. This makes the assessment stage a light continuation of the seminar. The participants can use learners’ goals, instructors’ notes, and learners’ annotations to form data-driven assessments.

Besides, assessment is not just necessary for the students’ party. The Socratic seminar equally encourages instructors to improve the overall learning experience and facilitation of the seminar. They can use scoring points to rank their learners in accordance with the demonstration of their critical thinking skills.

Assessment

Preparing the Students

There must be a good balance between instructor preparation and learner preparation if you wish to achieve success with your Socratic seminar. The seminar is very likely to fall in case the learners are not prepared well.

Here is how you can successfully prepare your students for the upcoming Socratic seminar in your school.

Preparing the Students

Provide an Overview

Provide your students with a detailed overview at the beginning of the academic semester. This should cover all that your students can expect as well as a comprehensive explanation of what a Socratic seminar is. Ensure that you’re transferring the impression of an opportunity to build understanding rather than a test.

Assign Texts

Assign texts to your students to increase their knowledge regarding important topics. Make sure you familiarize the learners with similar text that they can expect during a Socratic seminar. This will teach ways to deal with topics that may be controversial. Not to mention, it is a good way of polishing their critical thinking skills.

Bottom Line

The Socratic seminar is deeply rooted in the teachings of Socrates, the excellent Greek philosopher, and teacher. Conducting a successful seminar in your school involves careful planning, practice, and assessment. Not to forget, instructor preparation and learners’ preparation also play huge roles in the success of a Socratic seminar.

Bottom Line